Review: Charley’s First Night by Amy Hest

charleys first night

Charley’s First Night by Amy Hest, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Pure bliss, that’s what this book is.  This is the story of Henry who brings Charley, a new puppy, home.  When they get home, Henry makes sure to show Charley all around his new home, even showing him where his mother hides the birthday presents.  Henry’s parents inform him that he’s the one in charge of walking Charley and feeding Charley.  Henry is thrilled and can’t wait to do those things forever.  Then there’s the discussion of where Charley is going to sleep.  Henry knows that Charley wants to sleep in his room, but his parents want Charley to sleep in the kitchen.  Henry worries about Charley alone in the kitchen, but goes about setting up a pillow, a bear to keep him company, and a ticking clock for a heartbeat sound.  Henry stays with Charley until he falls asleep, but Charley doesn’t stay asleep for long.

Hest’s writing here is so dazzling.  She captures perfectly the swooning adoration of a child with a new puppy.  She shows the instant connection, the small memorable moments together, and the communication and understanding that flows.  Henry loves Charley with a purity that is piercing and Hest’s text makes it all the more real and true.  She uses quiet repetition and brings the reader into the intimacy of this new relationship, allowing them to notice the small things that Henry is seeing and feeling.

Oxenbury’s illustrations are classic and lovely.  They lift the story up, making it feel all the more timeless.  There is a beautiful warmth to her art that works particularly well for this subject.  The small images of Charley eating, romping and even making a mess will be sure to charm.

Two master picture book creators have come together to give readers a radiant book about the first love of child and puppy.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Iciest, Diciest, Scariest Sled Ride Ever! by Rebecca Rule

iciest diciest scariest sled ride ever

The Iciest, Diciest, Scariest Sled Ride Ever! by Rebecca Rule, illustrated by Jennifer Thermes

Released November 9, 2012.

After sleet and snow have created a thick crust of ice on the ground, what are Lizzie and her friends going to do?  It’s almost impossible to even walk on the stuff!  They slide downhill on their backs and it was a lot of fun, but they wanted to really find a good place to slide.  Snow saucers just spun on the ice, and that’s when Lizzie remembered the sled with metal runners that her grandpa had, a travis sled with an extra long seat. Grandpa remembered his own childhood when they were able to sled down the roads on days like this.  He warned them to stay off the roads, stay safe, and not go too fast.  But when the children finally reach the summit of the huge hill, they wonder if they will be able to keep that promise!

Rule has created a book that captures the wildness and pure joy of sledding.  Growing up in Wisconsin, we had a sledding hill that we would build ramps on and have a great time.  My father also had his childhood runner sled that could only be used in perfectly icy conditions.  So this book took me right back to those childhood memories of days that were blistery cold and icy, but you were having too much fun to care.  Rule builds suspense really well here, having the children figure out what sled to use, where to get it, and then the puzzle of how to climb an icy hillside without all sliding back to the bottom. 

Thermes’ illustrations have a wonderful old-fashioned quality to them but also show modern sledding and a modern community.  The colors are bright and fun, the sky often adding a punch of coral to the white landscape.  There is also plenty of action and movement throughout, creating a perfect pacing along with the text.

Get this one on your shelves for the holidays and sledding season.  You may just see your breath in the air as you read it aloud.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Islandport Press.

Review: Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor

keeping safe the stars

Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor

Pride and her two younger siblings, Nightingale and Baby, live with their grandfather, Old Finn.  They live on a remote property that Old Finn calls Eden.  But when Old Finn enters the hospital and is then transferred to Duluth for more serious treatment, it is left to Pride to care for her family.  She had been taught by Old Finn not to rely on charity from others, so she makes sure to not accept help that she can’t pay for.  She also knows that if anyone finds out that they are alone at Eden except for Miss Addie, an elderly woman who lives on the property but can’t care for them, they will be taken into foster care.  The three children had already been in care when their mother died, before Old Finn came and rescued them.  But even on their remote property, there are people who notice that something is wrong in Eden.  The question is whether Pride can keep her huge secret until Old Finn returns or not.

O’Connor is the author of Sparrow Road, which was one of my favorite middle school reads the year it came out.  She manages to write books that are ideal for tweens but read more like teen books, with pressing issues and serious consequences.  She populates her novels with remarkable characters, adult and child alike.  The three siblings here are all unique and read like human beings with their own points of view on everything that happens.  Seeing it all through Pride’s eyes is an important part of the story, offering her specific viewpoint and moxie about the entire situation.

Historical fiction, set during the Nixon resignation, this book is about the strength of family, resilience and the power of sheer determination.  At the same time, it is also about community and the importance of all of us being connected as neighbors and as a larger people.  O’Connor’s writing is beautifully done, gliding and light as life tumbles by unstoppable. 

A great pick for middle grade readers, this is the story of an unforgettable family.  Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

A Couple of Board Books

its pumpkin day mouse

It’s Pumpkin Day, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond

Mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie returns with a fall-themed board book.  Mouse has seven pumpkins to decorate for Halloween.  He paints a happy face, a sad face, then silly and surprised.  But when he discovers that one pumpkin is missing, he finds his own Halloween scare.  Perfect for older toddlers, they will enjoy Mouse, the pumpkins, and the surprise.  But if you give a toddler this book, they will ask to carve pumpkins.

wheres ellie

Where’s Ellie? by Salina Yoon

In Yoon’s signature simple style, this board book offers hide-and-seek fun.  Young readers are searching for Ellie but there are lots of things that look like an elephant and turn out to be something entirely different.  This board book will work best for younger toddlers who will enjoy the search and turning the pages themselves. 

Review: I Like Old Clothes by Mary Ann Hoberman

i like old clothes

I Like Old Clothes by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Celebrate reusing clothes along with this book’s radiant narrator.  She’s a little girl who simply loves old clothes, especially those that come from other people.  She wears them for dress-up, but also on just regular days.  She loves clothes with patches that used to be too-good for play and are now just right.  There are also some clothes that she changes a bit to make them her own.  It’s the faded, broken-in and comfortable clothes she loves.  Don’t you too?

Hoberman’s rhyming verse has a sweet playfulness to it that keeps the book from becoming heavy handed.  Instead it is about this girl and the reasons she loves to wear old clothes.  It’s persuasive and kindly done.  This book is perfect for children who wear hand-me-downs from relatives or siblings, but also for families who are buying used clothes to be more environmentally conscious. 

Barton’s illustrations are filled with soft colors and textures.  The entire book speaks to the ease and comfort of used fabrics.  On some pages there are buildings made from blue jeans, rules that run through the pages, and a general homage to reuse.

This book is as comfortable and cozy as my favorite old sweatshirt that I got from someone else when it didn’t fit them and I’ve had for 15 years.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.

Frank Cottrell Boyce Wins Guardian Prize

Frank Cottrell Boyce has won the 2012 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for The Unforgotten Coat.  It was a book that according to the Guardian came about in an unusual way: it was commissioned for charity rather than for commercial purposes.

“It wasn’t a commercial book at all – it came from a very different place,” he said. “The Reader Organisation promotes reading to all kinds of different groups, from kids with difficulties to alcoholics, and they were looking for a book which would cross all the groups. They found it very difficult to find, so I wrote this as a gift.”

The Guardian Prize is given out by other writers, making the award all the more special.

Review: The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare by Sam McBratney

adventures of little nutbrown hare

The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare by Sam McBratney

In this follow-up to the classic Guess How Much I Love You, McBratney gives us four new stories about the beautiful relationship between Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare.  In the first story, the two wake up to discover that the Hiding Tree has fallen over during the night.  Big  immediately climbs the fallen tree, but Little is much more cautious until he’s playing hide-and-seek.  The second story has the two rabbits climbing Cloudy Mountain.  Little has a lot of fun finding dandelions and blowing them.  So when the clouds start coming and making it hard to see, he gets cross when Big insists that it’s time to go.  The third story has a lot of danger that Little seems to find and Big is always watching to keep him safe.  Soon though, Little’s own inner voice is showing him the right choice.  The final story returns the rabbits back home as they discuss Little’s favorite place.

All of the stories carry that same loving warmth as the original book.  There is the ever-present but not smothering parental character and the mischievous child character.  McBratney has managed to incorporate situations that human parents will face into a cloudy mountain and a large field.  Children will recognize their parents’ efforts to keep them safe, redirect them, and be forced to change plans sometimes and spoil the fun.

McBratney’s The art is a large part of the charm here, but so is his writing style.  He keeps it simple but sunny, always giving a cheery outlook in both images and text.  Perhaps my favorite image is when Little is caught thinking of going into a big hole.  His odd leap away from the hole when caught captures exactly the body-language of a child in the same situation.

This is bound to be embraced by parents who loved the first book.  They will find themselves happily right back in the same loving, warm place.  Expect plenty of bedtime repeat reads.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

crown of embers

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

This sequel to the amazing The Girl of Fire and Thorns continues the story of Elisa and other beloved characters from the first novel.  It is the story of Elisa’s new role as queen of a country after war.  They won the war against the Inviernos only through Elisa’s use of the Godstone that she bears as part of her body.  The war may have been won, but her enemies are all around her as spies and perhaps even manipulating her own government.  After several attempts at her life, Elisa heads on a new journey; this time searching for a source of power using the guidance of her Godstone.  It is a harrowing journey that will put all of those closest to her at risk.  It is also a journey that readers will be thrilled to take with her thanks to the action, strong heroine and romance packed into this book.

Carson has done it again.  I was looking forward to this book so much, but so often my favorite series slip in the sequels.  This time, the second is as strong as the first.  I love the fact that Elisa is brave, strong and almost fearless, yet at the same time has achingly large doubts about so much of her life.  She is complicated as are so many of the secondary characters around her.  Carson invests much in each of them, making them unique and interesting too.  So many could be spun into their own novels.

The world building here is exceptional.  Carson has created a place of political intrigue, murder and deceit that would be too much without the equally strong message of the power of friendship, the ability to do what is right, and the love that flows throughout the novel.  Beautifully realized, the setting is made all the more vivid thanks to the characters who populate it.

Highly recommended, this book will thrill fans of the first novel.  Get this series into the hands of teens who love Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Review: Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon

penguin and pinecone

Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon

One day Penguin found something strange in the snow.  It was a pinecone and realized that it was cold.  Penguin quickly knitted Pinecone a scarf that matched his, but Pinecone just kept shivering.  So Penguin headed on a journey to return Pinecone to his forest home.  When they got to the forest of towering pines, Penguin built a nest for Pinecone and a heart of stones around him.  Penguin returned home but kept wondering what had happened to his friend.  So he set off once again to find out.  Readers will be charmed by the conclusion of this tale of an unusual but heartfelt friendship.

Yoon excels at simple illustrations and simple words.  Here she has created a world of sunny friendship in the chill north.  The words are simple enough to use with toddlers and they will appreciate the love of a found object at that age too.  Yoon’s illustrations have a wonderful jolly nature, creating a world that is clearly safe and loving.

A great pick for friendship or penguin story times, this book will also work well for winter units.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.